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March 29th 2016
Published: June 29th 2017
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Geo: -13.52, -71.99

After a shade over 4 hours of sleep, we met the majority of our Intrepid group at around 5.30am in the hotel reception. After a coffee, we were again headed back to Lima airport. The sun was yet to rise meaning we didn't really see any of Lima in daylight. We left the airport last night around 11pm, and arrived back this morning (experiencing a sense of Deja Vu) at around 6am meaning wed only been in the city around 7 hours, overnight, and awake for barely 2.

After a couple hours, we were aboard a Aveca flight (Star Alliance jet) bound for Cusco. The flight was comfy enough and we got some great views of the Andes and Cusco from above. After landing, we grabbed our things, met the rest of our group and found our Intrepid guide for our 8 day tour, William. A half hour drive had us at our hotel, Akwis Dream Hotel in central Cusco. Its a very basic 3 star place. Like Iguazu, its half a construction zone, drills and hammering aplenty. Nat and I were given a room on the top floor, level 4, with an awesome view. With no lifts we climbed up to our room, a little shorter of breath than usual.

Everyone will have heard about the potential of altitude sickness between Cusco and Machu Picchu. Between 3000 and 4000 metres above sea level the air is thinner and theres less oxygen. The degree to which this impacts people in unpredictable. It doesn't seem to depend on age, height, weight or fitness, but is rather random. Symptoms include headaches, dizziness, aches, feeling lethargic and sickness. Severe cases can cause brain and breathing issues, coughing up blood, unconsciousness and worse.. You're supposed to notice symptoms from 2-12 hours and it can take up to a week to adjust.

Considering this, our guide suggested a low key day and walking tour around Cusco. That said, we climbed some huge staircases and walked around for probably over 6 hours. We had a beautiful sunny day for our first exploration and experience of Cusco. What a fascinating place. Narrow cobblestone roads and lanes often too small far cars wind about opening into little squares and plazas. Alleys lead to inevitable staircases aplenty which seem to wind up forever.

After a slow and steep climb, we soon found ourselves at an awesome vantage point looking over the city. What a spectacular cityscape. Orange mud brick rooves dominate the view scattered throughout the valley, up into the hills broken up with an occasional church dome or steeple. Here we managed to get a group photo of our group. Well, I say our group, but not really. There are a few ways to get to Machu Picchu. Mostly, its hike or train it. Whilst curious about the hike, we booked this group tour as the train option, Nat worried about her Asthma and 4 days camping in the jungle not fitting the honeymoon profile after an already long trip. A couple months ago, our travel agent advised the Intrepid tours (hiking and train options) had been merged. Turns out we basically got added to a hiking group, without hiking. So of our group of 16, we are the ONLY two not hiking. Which makes us feel extremely alienated and on the fringes. For 4 of the 8 days, we will be separated from the rest, and isolated. Not ideal.

We made several other stops, at a Cocoa museum, marketplace and the main town square. We all stopped in at a local restaurant for lunch which gave us a chance to try llama skewers and Pisco Sour cocktails, a local specialty with a strong lemon lime flavor. The streets are full of locals selling touristy knick knacks and even llama celebrities who will pose for a photo (for the right price). Its impossible not to smirk and stare at a baby llama dressed in its finest poncho and hat, and once noticed by its owner, said llama will be picked up and shoved in your face asap. A bit like involuntary speed dating.

By 6, we were ready to head back to the hotel. A group dinner was planned for 7pm. That was until an absolute intense and spectacular storm hit the city. Lightning showered the city in light and torrential rain beat down relentlessly. Within minutes the sloped streets literally became rivers. We opted to shelter in the reception lounge area and watch the Peru vs Uruguay world cup qualifer with our guide. Eventually hunger struck and a small group of 5 of us opted to brave the downpour to find take out pizza, apparently just around the corner. We made it relatively dry and ordered pizzas to go. Little did we know they only could cook one pizza at a time, and only when the football was finished. We passed the time sipping Inca Cola until an hour later our pizzas were ready. They were pretty awesome. We collapsed in bed around 10pm absolutely exhausted. Tomorrow, we head to the Sacred Valley.

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